JERICHO WHARF NEWS ITEM

City Council to discuss SIAHAF application

Posted - Feb 06, 2015

The West Area Planning Committee should defer its decision on SIAHAF’s planning application

The West Area Planning Committee will meet on Tuesday February 10 at 6.30 p.m in the Town Hall to consider the SIAHAF planning application for the Jericho canalside site.

We believe the Committee should defer any decision until SIAHAF has concluded a legally binding agreement with the JWT that specifies how the community facilities will be delivered on the site, particularly the boatyard and the community centre,

Please come to the planning meeting if you can, to offer your support. If you would like the small poster illustrated above - ‘Fair deal for Jericho!’ - you can download it by clicking HERE and then print it and bring it to the meeting.

Below is the main text of the JWT’s submission to the Committee. To download the full submission with attachments, please click HERE

COMMENTS FROM THE JERICHO WHARF TRUST

The Jericho Wharf Trust objects to these applications in their current form, on the grounds that they include clear and certain negative features but provide no confidence that any compensating benefits will be delivered. If the applicant is prepared to reach agreement with the community on how delivery of the target benefits can be achieved, we believe the application should be DEFERRED and brought back to Committee once a legally binding agreement has been reached. If the applicant will not agree to this option, we urge that the applications be REFUSED.

The Potential Opportunity

1. This is a very important site to Oxford. The Jericho Canalside SPD speaks of an opportunity ‘to create a unique focal point for the Jericho and boating communities, while also delivering housing’; and the design review panel are quoted as believing that the public open space had the potential to be ‘one of the most important in the city’. Members will doubtless be keen to deliver a scheme to match that importance after so many troubled years.

2. The proposed scheme could provide all of the components listed as planning requirements. As representatives of the community, the JWT confirm that the provisions made do allow for a sustainably-sized community centre and an adequately sized boatyard (including DIY facilities); but not the conditions needed to deliver these facilities.

The Clear and Certain Deficiencies of the Proposed Scheme

3. However, as the Officer Report makes clear, the scheme has a number of deficiencies, which would normally provide clear grounds for refusal.

4. The most obvious of these deficiencies is the offer of 39% affordable housing, with all units being 1 or 2 bedroom flats; the proposals are substantially non-compliant with both HP3 and the AHPO SPD. All of the local community organisations have consistently urged the importance of more affordable housing in Jericho – and this is the only remaining chance to achieve that.

5. While we believe that the Architects have done an excellent job within the constraints imposed upon them, one of those constraints was the choice by the applicant to use all of the southern canal frontage for high value market housing. This led directly to the height and massing of the community buildings and the affordable housing block, which are criticised by English Heritage and by Canal & River Trust as causing harm to the setting of the Grade 1 listed Church, and to the canal-side setting.

6. The officers also note specific concerns of damage to residential properties adjoining the site.

The (increasing) Un-certainty of Compensating Benefits

7. The officers have proposed that, despite the recognized deficiencies above, the approval of the scheme can be ‘justified by the substantial public benefits of providing the affordable housing, community facility, boatyard, public open space and new bridge’. But the report recognizes elsewhere that – for the community centre and the boatyard - the applicant is not responsible for provision of those facilities. It follows that some other party must become responsible for their construction; and that unless the Members can be certain that there is such a party, with a viable plan for delivery, then achievement of community benefits cannot be used as a pretext for ignoring the other problems with the application. 

8. The historic assumption has been that the JWT would take responsibility for raising the funds to construct the community centre and the boatyard, and subsequently for their successful operation through two of its member organisations, the JCA and the JCBY. The JWT worked co-operatively with the applicant’s architects to ensure that the scheme met community needs. However, in February 2014 the JWT learned that the community facilities – when configured into one complex building as required by the applicant’s scheme – would increase the expected construction costs by 32%, to £6.6M (see Attachment A for analysis of the cost increase). The JWT’s assessment was that such an increase would seriously jeopardize the viability of the community facilities, and since that time we have consistently pressed the applicant to negotiate a solution to the issue. After many months and various false starts, the applicant verbally offered a solution on 8th January 2015, which JWT accepted subject to a detailed works schedule and a legally enforceable agreement. However, the offer was unconfirmed by 12th January; then unilaterally rescinded by the applicant. JWT’s position therefore remains that recorded in its public consultation of July 2014, namely that we do not believe that the scheme can be successfully delivered on the current basis. Since the officer report makes no mention of this consultation response, or elsewhere of the JWT position on the likelihood of target community benefits being achieved, the consultation response is included as Attachment B.

9. Following the January decision of WAPC to defer consideration of the application until after a site visit, uncertainty has been escalated further by the applicant’s statement that he has identified an ‘alternative community group’ to work with on the delivery (and operation?) of the community facilities. We have no information about who this group might be, what their capabilities are, or why they should be willing to take on a set of goals and responsibilities which the existing community groups consider unachievable under currently proposed arrangements. Until an extensive set of questions has been answered, it must surely be assumed that provision of the target community benefits is even further in doubt in this scenario.

A Potential Resolution

10. Our preferred outcome would be for WAPC Members to choose to defer the determination of these applications until the sought for community benefits are shown to be deliverable – or not deliverable. If the applicant has reached an effective and binding agreement with JWT before coming back to Committee, we shall be happy to confirm and demonstrate the commitment of JWT – and of all its member organisations – to delivery of those benefits.

11. We are confident that the applicant has ample scope – if he so wishes - to reach agreement with JWT without prejudicing development viability of the site. We have consistently suggested that officers and members have been ill-served by the financial reports presented to them; the supplementary statement from Evolution PDR, appended to the officers Addendum report, is only the latest example of insubstantial and flawed analysis. Attachment C provides our analysis.

12. A deferral of determination would also have the benefit of providing time for the additional review of the bridge issue, which has been offered by Canal & River Trust. For various reasons, almost nobody is happy with the current bridge proposal; and this is surely an unsatisfactory basis for proceeding with an important feature of the scheme. Also it is a requirement of the St Barnabas PCC that further consultation with the key parties takes place before Church land can be considered for inclusion in the Public Open Space.

13. If the applicant is not willing to make constructive use of a deferral of determination, we urge Members to refuse the applications. The likely outcome of approving the application as it stands is that there would be a lucrative private housing scheme; a breached affordable housing policy; and little likelihood of compensating community benefits in the form of a new community centre which meets modern standards of accessibility, or a much-needed community boatyard.

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To download the full submission with attachments, please click HERE

JWT poster for planning meeting

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